Student Government hosts its first annual Mental Health Summit

By CLAIRE GOUDREAU | February 28, 2019

The Student Government Association (SGA) hosted their first Mental Health Summit on Saturday, featuring keynote speaker Charles Xavier Kilborn. Kilborn is a local motivational speaker, spoken word poet and transgender advocate. He discussed his personal experience with depression and how students in similar situations could work to overcome mental illness.

SGA co-sponsored this event to mark the one-year anniversary of the Task Force on Student Mental Health and Well-being’s 2018 report, which detailed ways in which the University could improve mental health on campus. Several other organizations that work with student mental health co-sponsored the Summit, including student groups A Place to Talk (APTT), Art Gives, the Counseling Center and the Office of Diversity & Inclusion.

In his keynote speech, Kilborn described his life as a recovering alcoholic, a survivor of a suicide attempt and a transgender man. He also reflected on his experiences with therapy, medication and recovery housing, which aims to provide a safe environment for people recovering from addiction.

“Regardless of where you come from, who you are, what privileges you might have: We live in a world that teaches us to be ashamed of parts of ourselves before we get to know those parts. I internalized my sadness, and it manifested in a lot of very unhealthy ways,” he said. “[First] it was alcohol, and later on it became self-harm and drugs and all these other things, and eventually you get to a place where it’s such a cycle that you just accept it.”

According to Kilborn, students at competitive universities like Hopkins often find it difficult to relax and take breaks from their schoolwork, which can result in high levels of anxiety and depression that eventually have a detrimental effect on them.

“You can’t make a car go without gas in it, and you probably won’t make it to class if you don’t do the things that you need for yourself,” Kilborn said. “You deserve as much effort as you put into your education.”

The solution, Kilborn explained, is for students to avoid overworking themselves and to prioritize their own mental health.

“Mental health is no different than physical health. It’s no different than emotional health,” he said. “You have to do things to make yourself healthy.”

After his talk, Kilborn answered questions from the audience and performed one of his poems.

Next, Art Gives, a student group that aims to alleviate stress through art therapy, provided Summit attendees with supplies to make collages and oil pastel pieces. To conclude the event, attendees engaged in an open discussion about mental health.

Although the conversations during the day touched on many challenging and intense subjects, Kilborn explained that he tried to keep the mood light. In an interview with The News-Letter, he emphasized that he always aimed to explore serious issues through the lens of humor. 

“I realized that every time I heard anyone talk about mental health or any of the things that I talk about, it’s always pretty depressing. I am depressed. I don’t need ‘In the Arms of an Angel’ to be playing in the background,” he said. “So I thought that I could take my knack for making most things into a joke and infuse it [with motivational speaking].”

For Kilborn, the Summit was a success, in part because of the attentive and eager audience members. 

“Everybody seemed super engaged and hopefully the people that really needed to hear some things got what they needed,” he said.

Junior Class Senator Pavan Patel agreed, adding that he was pleased with the impact that the Summit had made on those who attended.

“It’s not necessarily a massive size, where we’re impacting hundreds of students. But the students that did come had a positive experience. Mental health is one of those topics that you can’t necessarily always address on a large scale, even if hundreds of students had come,” Patel said. “We were able to maximize our impact.”

According to APTT member Claire Gorman, communicating and interacting with fellow students in settings like the Mental Health Summit can help students cope with long-term mental illnesses and take care of their day-to-day mental health.

She appreciated that the Summit also encouraged students without diagnosable mental illnesses to explore their mental health and reevaluate their routines. 

“Mental health is different than mental illness, and everyone needs to take care of their mental health even if they may not have a mental illness,” she said. “At A Place to Talk, part of the point of having such accessible rooms in Brody and in Wolman is that we want students to drop by for anything they may want to chat about, from small passing concerns to larger, ongoing problems.”

Junior Class President Dean Chien agreed with Gorman, adding that addressing mental health through a campus setting is important for student well-being.

“It’s important to hold dialogue-building activities like this,” Chien said. “It’s not always that a person feels comfortable going to the Counseling Center or even feels comfortable just talking to their friends. By opening up a space like this where we’re able to just talk about what the issues are on this campus, we’re hoping to reduce stigma and build dialogue and connections.”

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